- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Des Moines Register. October 20, 2016

State agency misled the public on job-growth incentives.

Iowa’s state auditor released an eye-opening report three weeks ago that indicates the Iowa Economic Development Authority is cooking the books when it comes to a few of the job-creation programs it administers.

In fact, IEDA isn’t just cooking the books, it’s baking, boiling, deep-frying and sautéing those books.

The audit report focuses on two of the state’s job-creation programs - the High-Quality Jobs Program and the Grow Iowa Values Fund - and their performance between the years 2003 and 2014.

Through those programs, corporations can apply for loans and other forms of assistance in exchange for creating a specified number of jobs in Iowa. Combined, the two programs have doled out almost $310 million to businesses that have promised to create, or at least retain, 57,584 jobs.

The obvious question is, “How many of those jobs were actually created or retained?” That’s hard to say because, as the state auditors observed, IEDA isn’t fully reporting the current status of each individual project - and this failure makes it impossible to determine whether the programs are really working.

Although IEDA publishes an annual report with detailed information on the agency’s job-creation programs, some of the data in those public reports is, as the state auditor politely puts it, “misleading.”

For example:

The published annual reports list 26 projects involving $9.6 million in public investment that have supposedly resulted in “full recapture” - implying complete repayment - of the money that was loaned out. Two other projects involving almost $1 million in public investment are said to have resulted in “partial recapture.” In reality, all 28 of those projects were written off by IEDA as uncollectable debts.

IEDA publicly reported 32 other projects, involving $7.6 million in loans, as “full recapture.” But IEDA’s internal records show that 29 of those 32 projects are going through collection efforts, while the remaining three are tied to companies mired in bankruptcy proceedings.

IEDA claims the cost of each job created under the two programs is $5,392. But that calculation excludes tax credits given to the businesses as part of the deal. Once those credits are factored in, the cost balloons to $29,750 - more than five times the reported amount.

It may not have been IEDA’s intent, but the annual reports imply the agency has recovered millions of dollars in taxpayer money loaned out to certain businesses when the agency’s own records show some of these businesses have defaulted on their obligations. What’s more, the agency is also under-reporting the public cost of the incentives awarded to some businesses.

It’s telling that although the auditors examined only a small sampling of 125 projects, they found that 29 of them were inaccurately described in the agency’s published annual reports.

In one case cited by the auditors, a business received a traditional $300,000 loan in exchange for retaining - not creating, but merely retaining - 84 Iowa jobs. The business filed for bankruptcy after repaying just $15,000 of the loan, and the 84 jobs were lost. The IEDA board eventually wrote off the $285,000 loan balance as “uncollectable,” but the IEDA staff published an annual report in which the project is described as “full recapture.”

IEDA officials say the the “recapture” phrase is intended only to convey the agency’s desire to recover the money - not to indicate that it has actually done so. They say that fact should be clear to anyone who reads the annual reports, but the auditor disagrees, saying, “Reporting projects as ‘recaptures’ instead of ‘written off,’ ‘in collection,’ or ‘in bankruptcy’ misleads the users of the report. … The state will not collect these funds.”

The auditor has recommended a number of changes at IEDA, including revisions to the descriptions used in the annual reports. IEDA says it is in the process developing “a new application” that will provide greater clarity as to the status of the various projects.

One sign that IEDA still doesn’t get it: Agency regulations explicitly require the businesses that accept loans from the state to use an independent auditing service to calculate their job-growth data. But very few businesses are complying with that regulation, and IEDA officials have actually advocated the elimination of this requirement.

That’s hardly in taxpayers’ best interests. It’s as if IEDA has no confidence in the numbers it’s relying on, but doesn’t want to run the risk of having an independent auditor derail the gravy train.

This is an issue that should be taken up by the Iowa Legislature’s Government Oversight Committee. Lawmakers should demand that IEDA provide a full, detailed report on the current status of all job-creation incentives.

After all, millions of taxpayer dollars and thousands of Iowa jobs are at stake, and the public clearly can’t rely on IEDA’s annual reports.

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Mason City Globe Gazette. October 21, 2016

Concert groups great for North Iowa.

North Iowans are fortunate that concert organizations exist in several communities. With just a short drive, we can take in a variety of concerts and stage shows.

Points in case: The Hot Sardines bringing unique New York City Jazz to the Performing Arts Series at North Iowa Area Community College and what sounds like a delightful folk trio, A Band Called Honalee, featured as the opening attraction for the Clear Lake Area Concert Association.

The Hot Sardines, on stage at NIACC on Oct. 28, were born from a love of Fats Waller and jazz of his era. Sometimes known as “hot jazz,” it featured infectious melodies and vocals. Hot Sardines keeps the tradition alive through influences of legendary performers such as Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday.

The group’s self-titled debut album was named by iTunes as one of the top jazz albums of 20114 and spent more than a year on the Billboard Jazz Chart. Downbeat, a jazz magazine, called the group “simply phenomenal.”

“We found ourselves in the perfect place at the perfect time,” said bandleader Evan “Bibs” Palazzo. “As we explored this 100-year-old jazz, we began to look at it as a journey forward, not so much a look back. This is music for today, not a museum piece.”

A Band Called Honalee will perform Oct. 25 at the E.B. Stillman Auditorium in Clear Lake. This modern folk trio - its name a tribute to the classic “Puff, The Magic Dragon” - believes the melodies and messages of the 1960s folk era are relevant today.

Now, its mission is to share this uniquely American music with new audiences, and to celebrate the power of these songs to inspire people and bring them together.

Clear Lake also is the site of a special big-band event this Saturday. Nonsemble’s Club Flamingo will be presented at the Clear Lake Arts Center. It will feature live music and ballroom dancing with decadent desserts.

The setting is intended to be reminiscent of the nightclub and social ballroom scenes from days past. To make it even more special, Nonsemble is a group of local musicians who love the music they’ll be playing.

Among other special activities in North Iowa:

An exhibit by Lori Biwer-Stewart of Osage is at the Charles H. MacNider Museum in Mason City. Her artwork features a wide variety of prints.

Works by Wayne Allison, an abstract artist from Mason City, are at the Clear Lake Arts Center.

Rudd’s Haunted House promises scary good times.

Clear Lake United Methodist Church will host the second annual United In Praise concert of churches on Sunday.

Plus, it’s not too late to take a drive to enjoy some of North Iowa’s fall beauty and stop at your favorite local establishment for good food and drink.

We’ll see you out and about.

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Dubuque Telegraph Herald. October 21, 2016

Trump’s assault on electoral process dangerous .

“I would like to promise and pledge to all of my voters and supporters and to all of the people of the United States that I will totally accept the results of this great and historic presidential election … if I win.”

- Donald Trump, Oct. 20, 2016

Before a single vote has been counted, Donald Trump is complaining that the election is “rigged” against him.

He blames the news media. This is the same news media, by the way, that lavished so much coverage on him during the primary campaign that his Republican rivals struggled for ink and air time, helping clear the path to his nomination. But the media spotlight, including recent reports centering on his words and deeds involving groping and unwanted sexual advances, has been increasingly hot for him.

He blames the Clinton campaign. Schemes and dirty tricks, unfortunately, have marred many campaigns - remember, Richard Nixon’s downfall started with the 1972 burglary of Democratic Party offices in the Watergate - and this one is no exception. Just this week, a video surfaced of a Democratic operative bragging about recruiting troublemakers to disrupt and start fights at Trump rallies.

He blames unseen and unidentified people who, he says without substantiation, are planning to break the law at polling sites in “certain places” - think urban areas - and to steal the whole shebang from him.

Complain about the media. Complain about Clinton. But raising the specter of a dishonest and stolen national election - and refusing to honor the centuries-old American history of losing candidates accepting the results and supporting a peaceful transition of power - is troubling and dangerous.

Worried about voter fraud rigging the presidential election? Then how worried are you about getting struck by lightning?

We ask because lightning strikes on people are about 10 times more likely than voter fraud.

Yet, more than one-third of American adults surveyed recently believe there is “a great deal of election fraud” in the United States. Trump claims that voter fraud is “very, very common.” He’s very, very wrong.

Research shows that voter fraud shows is actually quite rare. One study found just 31 instances of it between 2000 and 2014. That’s 31 out of more than 1 billion votes cast. Even in the disputed election of 2000 between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the problems centered on decisions regarding mis-punched ballots - not that there was stuffing of ballot boxes or ballots being stolen.

Unfortunately, even Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Trump backer, is going along with Trump’s bluster.

Branstad this week said he agrees that there are efforts to cheat the system. He also accused national media organizations of “colluding” with Clinton, calling media bias and voter fraud “one in the same.” Well.

All that prompted Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate - like Branstad and Trump, he’s a Republican - to rush to assure voters that their votes will be counted, no matter what the governor says.

“I take the integrity of our elections very seriously,” Pate said. “It is my No. 1 priority. As the state’s commissioner of elections, I can assure you Iowa’s elections are not rigged. My pledge to every Iowan is that you will be able to cast your vote and your vote will count.”

Apparently the governor has forgotten about then-Secretary of State Matt Schultz who, beginning in 2013, spent $280,000 of taxpayer money and two years to investigate voter fraud. In the end, he found six cases. Just six - most of whom were felons whose voting rights had not been restored.

Dubuque County Auditor Denise Dolan also has strong faith in the elaborate system in place to ensure the integrity of the voting process. For example, handling of votes and voting machines must be done with representatives of both parties present.

As for Trump’s claims that dead people are on the voting rolls, there’s a system in place to combat that as well. Dolan, a Democrat, said a staffer reviews newspaper obituaries and the state Department of Public Health’s death-notice database and removes names from voting rolls.

On the bright side, Trump’s own campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, acknowledged that she does not believe there will be widespread voter fraud this election.

Even where there might be attempts at voter fraud, could they ever be so pervasive that it would change the result of a presidential election? Consider that each state conducts its own elections independently, using a wide range of equipment. Voting machines don’t use the internet to operate. (They are out of the reach of those Russian hackers.) The magnitude of a secret conspiracy to rig a national election is staggering.

This talk about rigged elections is more than “just words.” It can cut at voters’ confidence in the democratic process. Further, Trump’s refusal to state that he will accept the result - unless it’s in his favor - might cause some of his adherents to conclude that the proper response to a “rigged” election is violence. That unprecedented and, worse, dangerous.

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Burlington Hawk Eye. October 18, 2016

Crossed the line.

The Burlington School Board should tell Superintendent Pat Coen to avoid electioneering. That’s not his job.

In a recent mailing distributed by the Iowa Democratic Party, he advocated we vote for one candidate - Tom Courtney - for the Iowa Senate over his challenger, Tom Greene. He used his position to do that. He crossed a line.

In the flyer Coen notes Courtney is a big supporter of Iowa’s public schools. Coen’s smiling face is above a line that reads “Tom Courtney has a plan to make our schools proud again.”

We didn’t know Iowa’s schools weren’t proud. Many of them are, including many in this part of the state.

We would suggest Coen forget about what the Iowa Legislature will do to make our schools proud and get to work on the embarrassing truancy rate in the local public schools, and after that, the paltry graduation rate, one of the worst in the state, and then perhaps the test scores.

We would also hope the school board tell its superintendent to not borrow on his position for political advertisements. That’s inappropriate. Both Courtney and Greene have been strong advocates for public schools.

And what if you’re a school employee who thinks Greene is the guy you want in the Iowa Senate? Let’s imagine you have a bumper sticker on your car supporting Greene and you park your car at the school headquarters next to Coen’s car. And your boss comes out in a political flyer supporting the other guy? That’s intimidating.

It’s up to the school board to set some ground rules for such things. We hope board members won’t stick their collective heads in the sand and instead have the moxie to tell Coen to not use his position to advocate for one candidate over the other.

We may not agree with Greene on certain matters, but we’ll never quibble with his effort to do what he thinks is right. When he was on the school board, Greene was dedicated to what was best for the kids - fiscally conservative, but, at the same time, he exhibited an ambition to help the kids in the classroom succeed.

As a school board member Greene served his community well. For that matter, so did Courtney when he was on the school board. They had the best interest of the children in mind, albeit from vastly different philosophical positions.

It’s wrong for Coen to use his position to promote one candidate’s political gain. Picking sides is something the superintendent of schools should avoid, something the school board should make clear to the hired help. The leader of the district should stay clear of electioneering.

We hope the school board has something to say about this.

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